Philip the Evangelizer, O.B.E.: You already know the answers to all your questions

There is a legend told about Philip the Evangelizer (Acts 8:26-40). Apparently there was some government bigwig hailing from Ethiopia who had a mysterious life-changing experience while on a visit to Jerusalem. The power of this encounter - so it is said - led to a complete change in his life. It was in all the newspapers.

the story goes that this Ethiopian official found himself travelling by chariot on the road going from Jerusalem to Gaza. On the course of this journey he was reading aloud from the scroll of Isaiah when he became aware of a man running alongside his chariot.

"Do you actually know what you are reading?" This superman asked.

"How could I ever do so unless someone guided me?" Came the humble reply, and he invited the stranger to jump aboard, whereupon, starting from the verses he was reading, the man proceeded to explain to him "the good news about Jesus." As luck would have it, in the course of their discussion they passed a body of water. The Ethiopian took the opportunity to get baptised, after which the man bade his farewell and took off across the desert.

"What an extraordinary man," said the Ethiopian dignitary.

"What man?" Came his driver's guarded response, and indeed when the Ethiopian looked in the direction in which the man had set off, there was no sign of him.

To this day, Philip denies ever being there. Witnesses will concur that when the event was supposed to have taken place, Philip was found to be in Ashdod.

"It's a lovely story," said Philip, "but I was in Samaria, and I never got down as far as the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. It wasn't me...unless it was some sort of out of body experience."

And they all laughed uncertainly. You could never quite tell with Philip.

The truth will be even more astounding than the legend.

Let's say there was a man of some means travelling on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza - it's a visceral enough setting. It is a journey of some 100 kilometres (60 miles), which must have taken several hours to complete. Plenty of time to do nothing but sit and think. Perhaps he was pondering his own mortality. Maybe he did have the means and opportunity to be reading aloud from Isaiah.
"He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”
There is enough here to get a man thinking about the inevitability of death. None of us are immune. "Here am I, in a horse-drawn carriage, a dignitary of sorts, but in the end even I will be gone and forgotten."

Invariably this leads to thinking about God, and the purpose of life. Perhaps he was thinking about God's name and what it means, and turning it over and over in his mind - Jehovah, Yahweh, I am that I am...

And, despite the noise of the horses' hooves, in mute stillness he drifts into a silent reverie in which he sees a man shimmering out of the heat like Omar Sharif and something, he doesn't remember what, reminds him of Joshua, whose name means "Jehovah is salvation." His mind shifts down into neutral, lulled there, trance-like, by the hypnotic beating of the hooves.

And out of nowhere it hits him like a bolt: I am! Isaiah is talking about himself, some other man, and every man. Suffering and the knowledge of death can be a doorway to understanding our own essential nothingness, our fragility.

In that instant he suddenly became aware of his own being - the I am that I am; his I am-ness, if you will - and it immediately meant his salvation. There was "the good news about Jesus." Like Joshua, that name means "Jehovah is salvation." It is the saving of us when we recognise that "I am."

The pounding of the hooves broke through as never before. He could hear the horses' grunts; he could see the sheen of sweat glistening on their muscular hind-quarters, their powerful legs. Their scent filled his nostrils, and there was nothing between him and the horses. This chariot, this forward motion, all were as one.

He felt the heat of the sun on his skin, the warmth of the breeze. Every hair on his arm, every pore, was tingling. He could feel the flap of his robe against his calf; the rattle of the chariot wheels on the road, the vibration through the floor of the chariot, into his feet and legs and up through his body. Every mote of dust became instantly visible, kicked up and chaotic, and all astonishingly separate. The trees, the clouds, the blinding blueness of the sky, all assaulted his senses. The sunlight danced off a body of water, and he saw himself washed clean. Clean, not in the sense of dirt, or sin, but just...different. Fresh, and new. He saw everything about himself, and with that his ego melted away, and a rolling ball of emotion swelled up from his belly, exploded in his chest cavity, came up through his throat, and suddenly burst out in an ecstatic primeval cry.

"How could I ever do so unless someone guided me," was the humble realisation needed to unlock within himself the answer to all his questions. "I know nothing, and there is nothing I need to know." And, in that moment of letting go enlightenment was thrust upon him.

The answer to all your questions lies buried beneath a mountain of seemingly unrelated subsidiary questions. Why is that question of interest? Why is knowing the answer to that particular question important to me? "Well, because." Why, because? And what is important to you about that answer - and so on. One question may uncover another as if we are traversing a mountain range in order to reach a destination. What we hope is the last peak only gives way to another one beyond.

Every question takes us a step closer to understanding. We begin to feel a light-headed relief as we catch a glimpse of the answers underneath. The ego will call it avoiding the issue, and that is because the ego fears its own annihilation. Questions about ourselves indicate an emerging self-awareness. We observe our own I am-ness - the I am that I am. The ego fears the freedom, the salvation, that this precedes, and so it tries to impede progress. However, it is essential that we address these preliminary questions because in this way our ego will begin to melt away and the answers will speak for themselves with astounding clarity.

By doing this we gradually become aware of the curious paradox that it is the ego that asks these questions in the first place, and it is the ego that impedes us from answering.

What is truth? What is the purpose of life? What is God? What happens when we die? The answers are already there within you. Some of these answers you may not be able to articulate in a cohesive way, but this does not matter. Words are unimportant. Dig through the questions and the answers will reveal themselves. They might not reveal themselves immediately, but in a moment of mute stillness and silent reverie enlightenment will be thrust upon you, and like the Ethiopian dignitary you will go your way rejoicing.